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Mari and Kiana: TLC Otters

Just like human babies, Shedd Aquarium’s youngest sea otters, Mari and Kiana, required 24-hour care when they first arrived. But instead of milk bottles and dirty diapers, our animal-care specialists, assuming the role of a devoted mother, were buried in seafood shakes and fluffy towels.

In the fall of 2003, concerned kayakers removed Mari from Alaskan waters when they mistakenly thought she had been abandoned. Though well-meaning, their action breached the Marine Mammal Protection Act and, even worse, permanently separated her from her mother, who was probably hunting for food. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asked Shedd to adopt her, based on our success in raising several sea otters orphaned by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Two-month-old Mari required constant care when she arrived, including six daily bottles and frequent grooming to keep her thick fur fluffed with insulating air bubbles. Within two months, she became more self-sufficient in her eating, swimming and grooming skills. And within a year, she was fully integrated with the four adults in the “big pool,” a 40,000-gallon habitat in Shedd’s Abbott Oceanarium. Though shy at first, she quickly took the 16-foot plunge and corkscrewed back up, delighting children and adults alike with her playful antics and unquestionable cuteness.

Similarly, boaters retrieved Kiana, also 2 months old, from an Alaska beach in the spring of 2005-this time legally, following several hours of observation that determined her mother indeed was not returning. Once at Shedd, specialists bottle-fed her a warm concoction of ground clam, squid, cod liver oil, cow’s milk and vitamins every few hours. When she wasn’t napping in her tiny waterbed, she was twirling about in her private pool, then being meticulously towel-dried, combed and blown dry by her caretakers. Until Kiana learned to groom herself, she generated 80 to 100 towels every day!

Both Mari and Kiana are big girls now, zooming around the otter pool and enjoying their training and play sessions. Mari is very attached to the trainers and loves to interact with them. Kiana loves to play with the other four otters. She is especially attached to Kenai, our oldest otter, who treats the youngest like she's her pup.

And what could have been a sad fate in the wild has turned into a joyful story for both Shedd and the animals.


Check out photos, videos and stories of Shedd's otters.

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